Georgia Tech, Georgia Perimeter College Team Up to Improve Student Advising Processes

Research shows that strong academic advising leads to greater student success, but that component of a student’s college experience is often lacking, as more students go online, self-advise, or never seek academic advising at all. Without consistent advisement, students often take courses that are not relevant to their majors, or struggle through a class unnecessarily. Others may miss deadlines for registration, scholarship opportunities or financial aid.

Georgia Perimeter College (GPC) – the largest associate degree-granting college and the third largest institution in the University System of Georgia – was certainly not immune to such problems. Interviews with academic advisors, staff and students revealed the inconsistent, sometimes non-existent, academic advising process. That needed to change, both for student success, and to meet a Board of Regents mandate for all University System of Georgia students to be advised at regular intervals.

Creating a new culture and process to provide effective academic advising for GPC’s 22,000-plus students across four campuses appeared to be a daunting challenge. But in less than seven months, the process was improved, without investing additional resources or adding personnel.

In the fall of 2007, GPC was invited to participate in a state-sponsored program called Rapid Process Improvement (RPI). RPI – an initiative of the Governor’s Office of Customer Service (OCS) to improve the state’s customer service response to its citizens – has been used to streamline state programs like the Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Driver Services and the Office of Child Support Services. GPC President Anthony S. Tricoli envisioned RPI as a way to improve key programs like academic advisement.

“With one of the fastest growing populations of any two-year college in the nation, we knew we needed to improve the academic advising process quickly. Using the RPI process was one way to achieve that improvement, so the college administration supported this venture one-hundred percent,” said Tricoli.

Experts from Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute provided assistance to Georgia Perimeter College in lean management, a methodology that improves customer satisfaction by promoting efficiencies and eliminating waste and non-valued added activities. Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter and Tara Barrett, lean specialists with Georgia Tech, worked with GPC employees Fran Mohr, customer service director, and Patrice Masterson, human resources director, to facilitate ongoing improvement initiatives at the college. Additionally, Sallie Paschal, interim dean of advising and retention, served as subject matter expert and participated throughout the RPI process.

“Some may argue that lean principles are not applicable in a non-manufacturing environment, but there are opportunities for improvement in any organization,” noted Trapp-Lingenfelter. “It may be a little more challenging to standardize the process throughout the university, but the RPI teams at GPC did an excellent job identifying and implementing solutions to help their customers, the students.”

First, the team identified stakeholders in the advisement process, including students, faculty and those working in enrollment and registration, financial aid and information technology. They then created a value stream map, a process map that reflects the current progression of students from the moment they are accepted into college until they graduate or transfer, as well as each time the college had some contact with a student. Using this map, the RPI teams targeted areas for improvement and opportunities for providing academic advising for students. Once the group targeted a “fix” on each objective, it would meet with leadership for project approval.

“It was critical to the RPI process to have support from our executive leadership,” said Mohr. “Without their buy-in, we wouldn’t have had readily-available resources and personnel and the objectives could not have been met.”

After RPI, a new standard and mandatory orientation for all new students was created and implemented on all four campuses, using some suggestions from the students themselves. The new orientation kicked off in spring 2008.

“The students we interviewed said they wanted orientation to be fun and worth their time,” said Paschal. “As a result, the most critical information is now delivered in a variety of ways during new student orientation, including videos, and a fun, interactive Jeopardy game.”

During orientation, both students and parents attend breakout sessions on numerous subjects, including financial aid, learning support and tips for academic success. While students receive group academic advisement, parents and family members attend a separate session that gives them important information on financial aid and ways they can best support their students.

Another five-day RPI project focused on standardizing the advisement for Learning Support, a program that provides a sequence of studies and academic support to assist students with developing their personal goals and appropriate curriculum plans. The tools created during this RPI week included tips on studying, a Learning Support glossary, a pamphlet that lists the collegiate classes Learning Support students can take, scripts and a video training clip to implement the new activities. The new Learning Support in-class advisement program was implemented in fall 2008.

The last RPI events focused on academic advising tools and training for faculty. In-class and online training modules were created on a variety of topics from academic mentoring to common online advisor practices.

The RPI team also addressed getting the resources together in one place for effective advising. The result: an online “Two-Click Advising Toolkit,” that pulled together all the pertinent information for academic advising, including a quick reference guide, video training tips, training resources, glossaries and a link to the programs of study. GPC Office of Information Technology devised a “Two-Click” icon that was placed on all academic advisors’ desktop computers for easy access.

“Already we’re getting positive feedback from the changes,” Mohr said.

In a year, the college will begin looking at graduation, transfer and retention rates before and after RPI. The college also plans to use the RPI process in other areas that need improvement.

“With the professional leadership and guidance of the Georgia Tech consultants, Georgia Perimeter College has gained a valuable tool – the RPI process – to use in improving its services for students and enhancing a culture of continuous improvement,” said Mohr.

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (email hidden; JavaScript is required).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Driver Services Increases Efficiency with Georgia Tech Assistance

Jackie Upchurch, Kathryn Williams and James Davis of the Georgia Department of Driver Services discuss the agency’s hiring process with Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter, a lean specialist with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

The Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS), under the leadership of Commissioner Greg Dozier, could be a poster child for efforts to make state services faster, friendlier and easier to use. On average, customers who visit one of the driver licensing agency’s 64 statewide customer service centers wait just nine minutes and four seconds before beginning initial service. In 2007, more than 171,000 customers completed licensing transactions online and more than three million Georgians were assisted in person.

Even with all of those accomplishments, there was still room for improvement, in particular the hiring process for driver examiners. The entire process was a lengthy one, 125 days from start to finish. With technical assistance Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, Driver Services began examining the steps involved in the hiring process for ways to eliminate waste.

DDS selected a Rapid Process Improvement (RPI) team – a cross-functional team that deals with the process on a daily basis. The team was trained on lean principles, a set of tools that helps organizations identify and steadily eliminate waste from their operations. In addition to Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter, a Georgia Tech lean specialist, team members from DDS included James Davis from the investigative services division; Donna Garnto, Cheryl Rogers and Jackie Upchurch from the customer service licensing and records division; Johnnette Heard from human resources and Kathryn Williams from the customer service business analysis division. Deputy Commissioner Rob Mikell was also instrumental in assisting the team.

“We took all the documents used in the hiring process – from the time of testing until successful applicants get a hire letter – and laid them out on a brown piece of paper,” Trapp-Lingenfelter said. “Doing this showed all the time delays, duplicated efforts and some of the manual processes that people didn’t realize were occurring.”

Prior to the RPI project, potential driver examiners who passed an online test were mailed release forms for approval to complete criminal, driver and credit background checks. The next step was an interview and, if the applicants were deemed suitable, they would be required to fill out a 33-page background package.

“They were given 10 days to complete the big background packet, and it might be 20 days before I got them back. Of the ones I received, 70 percent were incomplete,” recalled Upchurch. “When that happened, I had to send everything back to them, identifying what needed to be completed. The amount of money we spent in postage was unreal.”

Davis agrees that incomplete applications were a major bottleneck in the process. He estimates that he was spending approximately 75 to 80 percent of his time doing background checks for driver examiners, and he says the process was spiraling out of control.

“One of the biggest problems we were having was applicants not putting in phone numbers or complete addresses and we would have to spend a lot of time searching for contact information. There was miscommunication with the applicants in the wording of the application,” he noted. “It all got to be counter-productive.”

Before the RPI, the process took 45 steps with 18 handoffs between departments. A total of six databases were kept separately by each unit, and the entire hiring process averaged 125 days. Upchurch said one reason the process was complicated was because priority was placed on high-need centers that had low staffing.

“Applicants could choose five centers where they wanted to work, but if you look at a map, we don’t have five centers close together. I was only allowed to interview for the eight high-need centers, so we had a growing pool of applicants that didn’t get interviewed,” she recalled. “I kept separate spreadsheets on each of these groups, and I never knew which spreadsheet I was working from – it was a huge spreadsheet nightmare.”

As a result of the RPI, several changes were made. These included implementation of a standardized and documented process, the elimination of multiple databases and unnecessary handoffs, creation of a regional interview board for examiners that includes center managers, selection of designated interview days, and development of an improved and streamlined background packet. Now instead of multiple databases, there is a single database to track an applicant in process.

Since the changes were implemented, the total time required to process an application has been reduced by 56 percent. Instead of 45 steps with 18 handoffs, the hiring process can be completed in 20 steps with nine handoffs. The revision of the background process alone reduced costs by 75 percent. The results were so impressive that Driver Services was honored in May 2008 with the Innovations Award during the Georgia Public Employee Award Recognition Program.

“Once a year the state allows you to submit applications for individual and team awards in five categories, and Driver Services was proud this year to receive two of the five awards, including the Innovations Award for the rapid process improvement project,” said Williams. “We’re still not where we want to be yet, but this is a process. We are constantly finding these new ways of improving it, and that’s the essence of continuous improvement.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (email hidden; JavaScript is required).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Georgia Tech Helps Streamline Assistance to Georgia’s Families and Children

In February 2007, Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) embarked on a journey to introduce lean methodology into its organizational culture. The effort, which was initiated by Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Commission for a New Georgia, aims to make Georgia the best-managed state in America through the Office of Customer Service, tasked with making access to state services faster, friendlier and easier.

“People in DFCS work hard and have huge workloads, so asking them to take a week away from work to participate in the improvement process was a challenge,” recalled Gwen Bailey, Rapid Process Improvement (RPI) champion for field operations.

Mona Castile, the Spalding County supervisor for Aged, Blind and Disabled (ABD) Medicaid, was one worker short and had gotten transferred back onto a caseload with a three-month backlog when the RPI initiative began. RPI, also known as lean management, is a set of tools that helps to identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations.

“By the end of the week of training, we were full supporters of RPI,” she said. “When you start hearing talk about improving customer service, a lot of times you may be concerned that improving services for external customers could come at the expense of internal customers (staff). This has been a win-win for external as well as internal customers.”

With technical assistance from lean specialists at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, DFCS began to identify areas for improvement within Medicaid, the program area designated by Commissioner B.J. Walker for lean implementation. In February 2007, the DFCS leadership team began meeting with Bill Ritsch of Georgia Tech and representatives from the Governor’s Office of Customer Service to discuss and develop plans for working with DFCS staff.

“We conducted RPI events on Medicaid determination of eligibility processes in June, July and August in Clayton County, Henry County and Spalding County. Weekly reporting mechanisms were developed to enable us to monitor post-implementation progress,” noted Bailey. “The big picture was to embed lean methodology in DFCS operations.”

At the Family Medicaid Intake event, the goal was to reduce processing time for new applications while increasing accuracy. Prior to the implementation, people seeking to establish Medicaid eligibility would wait an average of nine to 49 days.

With a target goal of 12 days or fewer, the county office dedicated two case managers to processing Family Medicaid Intake applications. The RPI team also developed metrics to track performance and created written practice standards. Now, customers who walk in with all of the necessary information to process an application will likely receive same-day determinations.

“There’s been no policy change – policy still allows varying standards for timely completion of applications – 10 or 45 days. But now we’ve got a targeted goal of 12 days and it’s a goal that’s being measured on a weekly basis,” Bailey said. “As you know, what gets measured gets done, and we want to make that goal.”

Once clients are determined eligible for Medicaid, they must be reviewed every six months. This area – Family Medicaid Ongoing – was the focus of the team’s second RPI event. The goal was to improve the quality of information submitted for re-determination and to encourage earlier response from customers.

“No face-to-face interaction is required to establish or continue Medicaid eligibility. Our review form – which is mailed out to determine continued eligibility – was reduced from four to two pages,” noted Carlene Burgess, DFCS RPI champion. “We also gave customers a shorter response time and simplified written communications mailed out in an effort to reduce the need for checklists and follow-up phone calls.”

In a three-month measurement before the RPI implementation, DFCS staff had to send follow-up checklists to between 69 to 92 percent of its customers; post-RPI, that number decreased to 34 to 60 percent. Before the implementation, between 49 to 56 percent of customers sent in their information within the allotted four-week time; afterwards, that number rose to 61 to 67 percent.

The third RPI event focused on ABD Medicaid Intake. As with Family Medicaid Intake, the team wanted to reduce the processing time for new applications while increasing accuracy. According to Castile, before the RPI it took 25 days to process qualified Medicare beneficiary applications. It now takes two days on average.

“We implemented same-day face-to-face consultation for all ABD walk-ins, established a ‘duty worker’ who was scheduled specifically to see ABD customers and updated the self-service application station,” Castile said. “This has really made a big difference, because it means people will get that all-important medical assistance and they’ll have access to it much faster. By paying the Medicare premium for our clients, it increases the amount they receive from Social Security.”

Ritsch acknowledged the project had its challenges, but says that the end results speak for themselves.

“The only thing consistent in this world is change, and even though RPI isn’t rocket science, it’s still really hard to change the culture of any organization,” he said. “DFCS has really begun to follow the PDCA principle – plan, do, check, act – and they will have continued success as a result.”

In May 2008 with Georgia Tech’s assistance, DFCS began a four-module series of training for an additional 40 employees to become RPI champions. By the end of August, new RPI processes will be developed for presentation to DFCS leadership.

“We think RPI can transform how we do business. DFCS is a large agency that touches a lot of lives,” Bailey noted. “Services to Georgia residents can’t help but get better as a result of us streamlining our operations and it will help with getting services out to the customer faster, friendlier and easier.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (email hidden; JavaScript is required).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Cutting Through Red Tape: Georgia Tech Helps Georgia State Agency Implement Lean Office Procedures

Mike Parks, Stone Mountain supervisor for Georgia’s Office of Child Support Services (OCSS), shares a letter written by a happy customer:

“I would like to thank you for the service I received from you and your staff today. I didn’t have a long wait in the lobby. I came right back to your office and you put all the vital information in the computer about my case. I set up my direct deposit and now I look forward to receiving support for my children. Same-day service works incredibly well in your office. All of my needs were met today and I can use my time working and taking care of my children.”

This happy ending might not have been possible had OCSS not implemented rapid process improvement (RPI), also known as lean management, a set of tools that helps to identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations. According to former OCSS Director Cindy Moss, the 60-office state agency, which is responsible for providing regular child support to families, was eager to get started on the road to lean.

With support from the Governor’s Office of Customer Service and technical assistance from lean specialists at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, OCSS began to identify areas for improvement in August of 2006. The following November, the OCSS leadership team began meeting with Bill Ritsch and Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter of Georgia Tech to develop value stream maps – diagrams used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer – in five areas of the child support process: establishment, enforcement, locate, legal and the Fatherhood Program.

“We didn’t have a base line on how long it took us to do each step in the area of establishing a court order, one of our core processes,” said Tanguler Gray, OCSS customer service program director. “It revealed a lot of duplicate work. We discovered that it took 71 days for our offices to take a request from intake to legal filing. Following the lean implementation, however, we were able to cut that 71-day timeframe down to same-day service.”

The second RPI event was conducted in the area of enforcement. Typically, enforcement includes a number of administrative tools including the suspension of drivers’ licenses and professional licenses, property and bank account liens, tax refund offsets, garnishment of lottery winnings and passport denials. The session resulted in what Gray describes as the “soft glove early intervention approach,” an improved process.

“Earlier, we allowed our customers to set the expectation for us, and now we’re setting the expectation for them,” Gray said. “By the time a case gets to court on our new early intervention process, the non-custodial parent will have been contacted a minimum of four times – two calls, one letter and then an additional letter if we have to move forward with sending the case to court for contempt. Before the RPI implementation and the soft glove approach, there weren’t any early intervention calls or non-custodial parent education or expectation established at the first point of contact.”

Should a non-custodial parent fail to respond to the early intervention attempts,  OCSS moves forward with aggressive enforcement actions once the non-custodial parent is 30 days out of compliance with the order, as opposed to the previous 60 or 90 days. Prior to the RPI implementation, it would take a minimum of 120 days to take “aggressive” enforcement action.

The lean implementation had a number of positive impacts in other areas as well. The pilot office for the locate (the process for locating non-custodial parents) RPI implementation was able to decrease its caseload by 32 percent. Legal secretaries have been able to save an average of 10 hours a week by having extra documents printed upfront. And in the Fatherhood Program – a program designed to provide under-employed non-custodial parents with job opportunities and training – the Fatherhood RPI team cut the number of days that it took for non-custodial parents to be notified about the program’s benefits from 69 to 14.

The RPI events have proven to be so successful that five additional events have been approved in the areas of review and modification, interstate cases, accounting, enforcement and legal.

According to Ritsch, lean transformation is a journey that does not end – and changes frequently.

“Toyota has been doing this for 40 years and they’re not done. It’s going to be a couple of years before OCSS really starts seeing impacts and establishing the lean culture,” he noted. “Our goal is to internally create the skill set to drive this forward. Georgia Tech will always be there to assist, but the agency now has the expertise to continue this path forward.”

Already OCSS has seen marked improvements. In 2007, the agency collected $651 million, a 6.2 percent increase over the previous year. That equates to an additional 17,500 families receiving child support. Many in OCSS partially credit RPI implementation for these impacts, and, according to Moss, those numbers alone could propel Georgia from its 47th ranking of states to somewhere in the low 30s.

The effort to streamline OCSS’s services initiated from Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Commission for a New Georgia, a public/private partnership designed to make Georgia the best-managed state in America. The Office of Customer Service, created and funded by the Georgia General Assembly in 2006, is tasked with making access to state services faster, friendlier and easier. According to Ted Bibbes, program director of process improvement with the Governor’s Office of Customer Service, it is a win-win situation for both customers and employees.

“The results of RPI enable employees and customers alike to experience the changes being made in government service. Customers encounter quicker service, more personal attention and simplified processes, be it a child support check from the Office of Child Support Services or a driver’s license from Driver Services,” he said. “Employees know their customers best, and the ins and outs of their jobs. This knowledge and leadership’s support are critical to success and therefore instrumental to driving change.”

About the Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (email hidden; JavaScript is required).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright